It’s Sunday morning, 9:15. You’re sitting in your study with the door closed. Your sermon is done, and the notes are spread in front of you on your desk. Normally you would be excited to step into the pulpit and proclaim the word of God – but not this Sunday because last night you indulged yet again in internet pornography. Stinging memories of your behavior prick your heart like barbs. Waves of shame and guilt crash onto your soul, washing away the sense of joy and expectation you had earlier this week as you prepared your sermon. Self-loathing and despair overwhelm you and bring you to tears. You would give anything to have a re-do of last night’s fall, but you are painfully aware that the past cannot be undone.

I suspect the scenario above is far more common than most of us pastors want to believe. Recent studies indicate that 33% of pastors admit to having visited a sexually explicit website. Of that 33%, 53% say they’ve done so in the past year, and a full 18% admit to viewing pornography several times each week. On top of this, pastoral isolation and lack of trust within ministry settings often make accountability undesirable or even seemingly impossible.

And yet, pornography use is a potentially disqualifying sin and always becomes more serious over time if left unaddressed. Neither our flesh nor our adversary will tell us the full truth about the destructive paths our sin will take us down. What follows, then, is a summons for my brother pastors to preach the truth to ourselves – the truth about where pornography usage will lead us – before we sin.

  1. Porn use denies the power of the very gospel we preach.

Porn use, like any habitual sin, is a denial of the gospel’s power. This is because Christ died not only to liberate us from sin’s penalty but also progressively to free us from sin’s power (Titus 2:11-14). While sinless perfection will always be out of reach, nevertheless our people ought to be able to look to us to see evidence of the sanctifying power of the gospel.

This, I think, is at least one reason why the pastoral qualifications are given in the New Testament (1 Tim. 3:1-7, 2 Tim. 2:22-26, Titus 1:6-9) relate more to Christian character than ministry skills. And though pornography usage may not be visible to our churches, it is all too visible to the One who shed His blood for the church’s purity (Eph. 5:26-27) and who now walks among His churches as both Savior and Lord (Rev. 2:1).

  1. Porn use will inevitably affect our preaching.

Probably most preachers are familiar with Aristotle’s classic triad of rhetorical distinctions (logos, pathos, and ethos). Though he considered the verbal content of the message (logos) and the passion and conviction of the speaker (pathos) to be important, neither were as crucial to Aristotle as the perceived character of the speaker (ethos). In other words, who we are on the inside will inevitably come out in our preaching (Prov. 4:23).

As moral beings created in the image of God, we cannot long bear the tension between the content of our sermons and our immoral behavior. Consider how difficult it would be to preach on holiness or sexual purity the morning after a night of surfing internet pornography. Inevitably, we will either harden our hearts through pretending to be someone we aren’t, or we will dilute the message. Either course of action is a betrayal of our calling to be the same men in the pulpit that we are out of it (1 Cor. 9:27).

  1. Porn use shrinks our capacity to love those we serve.

Porn use is uniquely narcissistic in that it abuses God’s most relational gift by directing it toward our own sexual desires rather than toward the good of another. Also, the objectification of others that is inherent in porn use subtly trains us to look out for our own interests at others’ expense. Click by click, porn use robs us of our ability to give ourselves to others and makes us increasingly self-focused.

Greg Handley writes: “Pornography shrinks the soul’s ambition to privatized self-indulgence at another’s expense. Missions expands the soul’s ambition to embrace self-sacrifice for another’s good. Thus porn, in a unique way, deconditions us for missions.”

  1. Grace-fueled obedience.

Many of us need to recommit to sexual purity in both thought and deed. We must put to death each sinful thought and counter each temptation with the promises of God. And we are not alone in this! Our Savior knows how hard it is to fight temptation – even sexual temptation (Heb. 4:15, “in every respect”) – far better than we do. If some of us have fallen more times than we can count, our good Father remembers it no more and delights to forgive when we confess (Jer. 31:34; 1 John 1:9). Jesus is our friend, our elder brother, our merciful and faithful high priest. He understands, he stands ready to help us, and he is for us in this battle (Heb. 2:17-18, 4:14-16). The Holy Spirit is given to us, in part, to enable us to resist the temptations of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). God has graciously given us all the resources we need to grow in godliness (2 Pet. 1:3-4). There are excellent reasons, then, to fight sexual sin.

Brother pastors, we may not be able to undo the sinful choices of yesterday, but by God’s grace, those sinful choices will become fewer and farther between. Let’s get to work today, that we may be all that our families, our churches, and the lost need us to be for the glory of God.